Howard’s conversion to tax-and-spend social democracy has led to some interesting responses on the right of the Australian political spectrum. I have discerned three main responses.
* See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
This has been the dominant response of the partisan cheer squad represented by commentators like Michael Baume and lobby groups like the Institute of Public Affairs Faced with policies they can’t possibly endorse they maintain a discreet silence and focus on safe grounds for supporting the government, like “experience” . This was the theme of Baume’s latest piece in the Fin, and of the IPA, who wheeled out ex-Labor minister Gary Johns to say
I think Australia has got itself a future prime minister in Latham but I don’t think people will accept him now.
“I think John Howard is a steady hand at the till (sic). I don’t think the economic conditions are such that people will want to switch horses.”
Of course, if you buy this kind of argument we would never have a change of government.
* Hold your nose and pull the lever.
This has been the second-most common response, represented by people like Alan Wood, who, after deploring both parties, manages to find a bunch of reasons for preferring the government.
* A plague on both your houses
Only a minority of those on the right have been willing to condemn the government in the same terms as they have always attacked similar proposals from Labor. One example is a letter by Greg Lindsay and Peter Saunders of the CIS published in The Australian on 29 September.
The big problem for those with this viewpoint is that they have “nowhere else to go”. A few people, like John Humphreys may put the government last. This would be the logical response (if they lose this time, the Liberals might revert to free-market policies, whereas if they win they will persist with social democracy) but I can’t see many people advocating it.